Stations React to Conan Clips...Again

Every new edition of Conan O'Brien's local news roundups, which show a series of local TV anchors spewing the same canned verbiage accompanying syndicated (and often quite gossamer) stories, brings a flurry of reactions to the practice. Here's the latest, which aired on his TBS show in mid December.

By now, you'd think most viewers--or at least half?--realize how the process works: that the stations fill yawning holes in their local coverage with content generated by CNN Newsource or their network partners, just like how a newspaper runs a story from Reuters or the AP (granted, those stories, unlike the ones in TV news, are attributed to their creators).

Here's what we wrote about station leaders' reactions to Conan taking them down in B&C last month. Bob Sullivan of Scripps told us:

“I cringe—it does make us look silly. More importantly, it makes us look lazy and homogeneous. And I don’t think that’s good.”

Some of the resulting discourse is constructive, such as Poynter's take on it.

Writes Adam Hochberg:

You’re almost certainly watching syndicated content when your local newscast shows video of national or international stories. Stations also rely on Newsource for sports highlights, business and consumer reports, entertainment news, and stories CNN categorizes as “Caught on Camera,” “Animals,” “Kickers,” and “Easy to Tease.”

“Those services give us the ability to run different content in each show,” said Matthew Weesner, the news director at KHGI in Kearney, Neb., one of the stations O’Brien included in the self gifting montage. “We’re doing six and a half hours of live programming a day, and we’ve got a lot of space to fill with a pretty small newsroom.”

Online comments related to the Conan pieces often talk about the giant media companies that own stations, and how their corporate cuts have left the stations undermanned.

Each new Conan news round-up leaves some news professionals red-faced, and sparks talk of change in local TV newsrooms.

Said Weesner:

“People are supposed to be at least rewriting the lead sentence, and hopefully the entire lead-in to the package. As soon as we saw that happen, we said it was time to reevaluate how we do things so that something like that doesn’t happen again.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.